Michael James Schneider_image fixedBy Michael James Schneider, PQ Monthly

He stands in my doorway, not coming in. His hand holds the bike he rode over on, also halfway through the threshold. Carl mutters something, small talk: “Hey. How did you sleep last night?” “Like a log,” I say. “A drunk, crying log.” He doesn’t react. He just looks down at his feet. “Come all the way in, will you?” I ask, now annoyed. Everything’s been going great with Carl. We’ve been dating a couple of months now, so this is about the time for something to get completely and irrevocably fucked up. I look at my watch: Yup, it’s Breakup O’Clock!

He closes the door, and comes into my living room. He leans his bike on the wall and sits down next to me on the couch. I like this guy, he’s a little too young, but at least he doesn’t think all guys over 35 ejaculate sand. We both stare at my coffee table book; it’s covered in wine stains. My cat Ned jumps up on the couch next to us and I absently pet him while looking at Carl. I lean down to kiss his furry head and mistakenly kiss his large wet eyeball instead. Ugh. This is going well.

“So, uh, you remember that friend who I told you slept over and drunkenly crashed in my bed the other night?” he asks, not making eye contact with me. I nod, my throat gets dry. My eyes get wide. I’d like to say my eyes are hazel but they’re brown as fuck…I’m so basic my phone autocorrects every word to “Volvo” lately. He sees my expression: “No! No, nothing happened, I just…” He reaches into the backpack he brought and starts pulling something out. Oh, that’s right! I’m cooking dinner for us and I forgot he was bringing the wine. But then he pulls the bottle the rest of the way out, and I see that it’s not a bottle of Prosecco to go with the Chicken Picatta I was making. It’s a bottle. Of. Fucking. Nix.

“We didn’t do anything, but we slept in the same bed, and he gave me crabs.” And like that my brain is racing and trying to make sense of what he said and I’m envisioning him and his friend at the Saturday Market, wicker baskets slung over their arms, skipping up to the seafood vendor. Arm in arm in front of the bed of shaved ice, they point at the tank full of lobsters and crabs, and pick a couple of big ones out. The jolly vendor with the filthy apron laughs as he plunges his hands into the cold water and brings out two huge crabs with cartoon eyes and hands them to Carl’s friend, who then gives them to Carl. And now here’s Carl, about to pull one of them out of his backpack as it serenades us and sings “Kiss The Girl” (whatever) as he and I make out like rabid badgers.

I’m shocked back to reality when Carl clears his throat and continues: “Chances are you don’t actually have them. I mean, you haven’t been itching down there, have you?” “Oh. Crabs. Okay.” I remain calm. I have not been itching, no. I ask him some questions. We decide to call it an early night, and I close my door after him which waving goodbye with the bottle of Nix shampoo in my hands (in my mind, the bottle reads FOR HUMAN FLEAS). I lock the door and run the fuck to my computer and image search “genital crabs.” My eyes grow wide as I look upon the horrifying fat little limbs of the parasites, the face that looks like chaos, the pockmarked and scabbed human skin that comes from untreated crabs. Everything goes black as I slump down and pass out.

Later, I’m in the shower, directing the red hot stream of steaming water at my junk as I use the Nix. It burns, and not the gentle Selsun Blue burn to let you know it’s working. No, this is the humiliating burn that only Human Flea Shampoo can give you. This is the burn that says “Hey World, I’ve Made It! My Body Is Home To A Parasitic Insect!” I go about my daily life, feeling like each and every one of my crotch hairs is on fire. Who the hell do I talk to about this? Who can I commiserate with? My married friends don’t have this problem (that I know of). I certainly can’t bring it up to my parents (“Hey mom, how’s the arthritis? Oh by the way I might have genital crabs. Did you ever have those?”). So who? My pastor at church?

And that’s when it strikes me. Why am I afraid to tell anyone? Why is this shameful? Yes, we can all agree that STIs and parasites are bad news. But when in our formative years did we learn to keep them a secret and not talk about them to anyone except those who it might directly affect? Don’t get me wrong, I was waterboarded as a Cub Scout like the rest of you, but there must have also been a point where I learned that STIs are something we Just Don’t Talk About, just like sex.

I wrote recently about monogamy and the strange ways that slutshaming rears its head, and maybe this is another one. Let’s do this: let’s start the conversations about what’s going on around our junk. No, if this happens again I’m not going to broadcast it from the mountains, and yeah I’ll take twice as many precautions. But I won’t treat it like a massive secret that I don’t tell my friends. If secrets are weird, then I guess transparency is the new normal. Hey: We need to talk.

Michael James Schneider is a writer, designer, and artist based in Portland, OR. He writes for his wildly unpopular and poorly-named blog, BLCKSMTHdesign.com, and just  released his first fiction book, The Tropic Of Never, available on Amazon. Photo by Summer Olsson.

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